Working hours

This page presents all relevant good practice case studies that showcase how business have addressed the Working hours dilemma. Case studies have been developed in close collaboration with a range of multi-national companies and relevant government, inter-governmental and civil society stakeholders. We also draw on public domain sources, including the UN Global Compact's own published Communications on Progress through which signatories are required to report on their performance against the Ten Principles.

The case studies explore the specific dilemmas and challenges faced by each organisation, good practice actions they have taken to resolve them and the results of such action. We reference challenges as well as achievements and invite you to submit commentary and suggestions through the Forum.

IN-DEPTH (Print seperately) Unilever: Reducing overtime and excessive working hours in the workplace - UK

New Look: Improving working hours in supply chain factories - Bangladesh

UK-based fashion retailer New Look is an active and long-standing member of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), an alliance of companies, trade unions and voluntary organisations. To comply with the ETI’s Base Code, which sets out commitments by companies on responsible working hours, New Look has focused on reducing overtime by employees at its Bangladeshi suppliers, while at the same time increasing worker productivity at these factories.

New Look enabled its suppliers to bring in industrial engineering experts to help streamline manufacturing processes at factories. New Look also enhanced its own buying practices through improved forecasting, thereby providing longer lead times for factory managers. This helped prevent last-minute orders that often required employees to work longer hours to meet short deadlines, which, in turn, enabled the factories to better manage production.

After consultations with factory workers, Bangladeshi suppliers also introduced benefits packages to workers – including measures such as additional medical care, child care facilities, a matching provident fund, better quality meals, bonuses for improved attendances and a production incentive scheme. The direct benefits for the Bangladeshi suppliers were greater efficiency and productivity, reduced absenteeism and reduced staff turnover.

Ethical Trading Initiative: Working with member companies to ensure working hours are not excessive - Global

The Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) – an alliance of companies, trade unions and voluntary organisations – expects member companies to adopt and implement its Base Code, including a commitment that: “Working hours comply with national laws and benchmark industry standards, whichever affords greater protection.” Member companies, including Gap, Pentland, Marks & Spencer and Primark, provide the ETI with annual reports on their progress in implementing the commitments, including on the living wage. ETI conducts random validation visits to at least 20% of its reporting members each year. While the reports remain private, ETI’s analysis of the 2008/9 annual reports showed that, of all improvements made by member companies in the area of working conditions, 15% related to wages and 17% to working hours.

Marks & Spencer: Launch of three ‘ethical model’ factories – Bangladesh, Global

In 2007, UK-based multinational retailer Marks & Spencer began working with suppliers to open three ‘Ethical Model Factories’ in Bangladesh to demonstrate the economic benefits of good ethical performance. This involved the company to providing more than 80,000 hours of training to its suppliers. Training was given to these factories’ 130 supervisors and managers on issues related to working hours such as human resource management, industrial relations management and productivity.

The three trial factories in Bangladesh, as well as a UK food manufacturer, completed their trials in 2010 with positive outcomes. These included increasing efficiencies, improving product quality and lowering employee turnover. For example, Oxfam reported that during a period of seven months between 2009 and 2010:

·         Productivity increased between 20% and 61%

·         Average wage increased between 12% and 42%, based on a standard working day without overtime (bringing wages above the legal minimum)

·         An 85% reduction in absenteeism and 65% reduction in worker turnover.

This knowledge has been shared with additional suppliers across Marks & Spencer’s global supply chain and other companies operating in Bangladesh. As a result of the project, 20 more Ethical Model Factories in Bangladesh have been either set up or are in the process of development. The company is also planning to roll out further Ethical Model Factories in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh by 2015.

ILO: Decent working time guidelines for business - Global

The International Labour Organization (ILO) is addressing long hours and low wages through its Decent Work Country Programmes. These help governments to implement laws and practices that advocate “normal” working hours and a living wage. The ILO also offers guidance for business when developing a framework on working time policies and practices. The ILO recommends this for businesses operating in developing or transitional countries.

Companies abiding by the ILO’s decent working time arrangements framework needs to fulfil five inter-connected criteria::

·     Preserve health and safety: Safeguarding the health of employees in the workplace should be a basic goal for working time policies, especially those that aim to discourage long working hours.

·     Be ‘family-friendly’: The reconciliation of work and family life should be a prominent concern for a company, irrespective of the level of social-economic development in the country. Companies should aim to ensure that there is sufficient time for their employees to combine paid work with family and domestic obligations.

·     Promote gender equality: When developing any work-family measures for the workplace, it is important to analyse the impact of working hours on gender equality. Often women’s responsibilities for caring and domestic tasks far outweigh those of men. In this regard, the promotion of part-time work as a work-family measure is important, although it is often not sufficient for employees – since many women work in part-time positions and therefore receive reduced pay. Companies should ensure that women taking maternity leave or working part-time are able to retain a similar job status in the workplace, thereby enabling an easier transition if they choose to move back into full-time work. Furthermore, companies should consider gender initiatives in areas such as hiring, wages and benefits and career development.

·     Enhance productivity: Statutory working hours can limit and reduce excessive hours, which are often unhealthy and unproductive for employees. Working reasonable hours also incentivises firms to modernise working time arrangements, by investing in workers and in improved technology. Often the problem of long working hours is linked to low wages. However, efforts by employers to reducing working hours, without addressing low wages can easily result in workers looking for jobs in the informal economy. To address this issue, a company can increase real wages while, at the same time, instigating measures to ensure that workers are trained or assisted in improving their hourly productivity rate.

·     Facilitate worker choice: A reduction in working hours can play a role in advancing the influence that workers have on their work schedules. For example, these measures might allow workers to devote more time to their families and make formal economy jobs a possibility for more women. Measures should be tailored towards balancing flexibility and protection, such as specifying an absolute maximum number of hours each week. Such measures should also give individuals choices on when they can work and the right to refuse work on traditional rest days. 

GSCP: Effective ethical supply-chain management through peer cooperation – Global

The Global Social Compliance Programme (GSCP) is a cross-sector platform of companies working together with the aim to deliver a consistent approach to the improvement of environmental and working conditions in global supply chains. The GSCP was formed in 2006 after recognising that “the proliferation of codes, audit duplication and divergence of approach is causing inefficiency and slowing improvement within the supply chain”. Its approach is to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and best practice, enabling companies to develop comparable and transparent mechanisms to comply with existing workplace and environmental regulations.

The GSCP is based on three key pillars:

  • Development of a set of reference tools to describe existing best practice and relevant international standards – which “provide a common interpretation of fair labour and environmental requirements and their implementation”. These tools function as a neutral ‘benchmark’ through the GSCP Equivalence Process, which promotes the convergence of approaches as well as the reduction of duplication in auditing.
  • The building of comparability between different systems – and the facilitation of data sharing between different databases
  • Collaborative approaches towards capacity building

Membership of the GSCP includes Adidas, Chiquita, Gap., S.C. Johnson, Hasbro, Timberland and Wal-Mart. In addition, the GSCP’s advisory board includes representatives from UniCommerce, FGTA-FO, the International Federation for Human Rights, Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), the Global Partnerships Forum and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Marks & Spencer: Surveying workers to monitor supply chain working conditions – Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka

In September 2013, Marks & Spencer, a UK-based multinational retailer, signed a deal with social enterprise group Good World Solutions to monitor 30 supplier factories in South Asia, using mobile phones. The project involves around 22,500 workers, who are able to report directly to Marks & Spencer on their working conditions four times a year via their phones.

While suppliers will be informed of the outcomes of the study, reporting will be conducted on an anonymous basis, mitigating the risk of interference by local management. The project spans Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka, offering broader monitoring of working conditions than previous projects. Marks & Spencer’s approach improves on past practice, as it takes into account the issue of illiteracy among the workforce. The use of mobile phones to speak directly with supplier workforces overcomes both widespread illiteracy and geographical divides. If successful, the company plans to expand the project to cover more supply chain factories.

Nikon: Promoting paid leave and preventing excessive overtime - Global

In its 2016 sustainability report, Nikon emphasizes its commitment to supporting employees’ work-life balance. To achieve this, the company has implemented various policies that facilitate child care, promote a reduction in overtime and encourage staff to take their allocated annual holiday. These policies include for example:

·         Allowing staff to take up to two years of childcare leave with staggered working hours, reduced working hours and leave on an hourly basis.


·         Promoting annual paid leave, introducing flexitime and having a ‘no overtime day’.


·         The Cooling System programme was set up to prevent individuals from taking on excessive overtime.


·         The Work Time Campaign promotes taking annual paid leave and focuses on encouraging employees and supervisors who have a low rate of taking personal leave.